[Thanks for this, Olivarez. --Tom]
Something that I think has been lacking over here is a detailed look at the stretch run for all teams involved in the western conference playoff chase, something we are very much a part of (for better or for worse). I'll go ahead and do each team in order.
Their remaining schedule (12 games): vs WAS, vs SAS, @ OKC, @ SAS*, @ NOH, vs OKC, vs DAL, vs GSW, @ UTA, vs LAL*, vs MEM, @ GSW*
Notables: Portland has 3 back-to-backs left on their schedule, 2 of which are road games. They play a contending team 4 times. 5 of their 12 are on the road. 9 of their 12 are against teams in the western conference playoff picture. They have (so far) split their season series with SAS, have lost 2 to OKC, have lost 2/3 to NOH and have split with MEM.
Prediction: 6-6, 46-36 record.
7. New Orleans
Their remaining schedule (11 games): @ UTA, @ PHX*, @ LAL, vs POR, vs MEM, vs IND, vs HOU, vs PHX, @MEM, vs UTA*, @ DAL
Notables: New Orleans luckily only has 2 back-to-backs left on their schedule. They only play 2 contending teams, but both games are road games for the Hornets, and both are against teams fighting for the 2 seed, which will prove to be monumentally important for the Mavs or Lakers in the 2nd round. Despite the lack of contenders on their stretch run, they play many other teams fighting for playoff seeding; none of these teams are statistically eliminated from the playoffs, and 6 of their remaining 11 are against teams currently en route to the playoffs. 5 of the 11 are on the road.
Prediction: 5-6, 45-37 record.
Their remaining schedule (11 games): @ BOS, @ CHI, vs SAS, vs GSW, @ NOH, vs MIN*, vs LAC, vs SAC, vs NOH, @ POR, @ LAC*
Notables: The Grizzlies only have 2 back-to-backs remaining, and each one includes a lottery team. They play 3 contending teams, but back-to-back-to-back. They are 1-2 in the season series with SAS. They have split their series with Golden State, who will still be on their tour against the Southwest Division (I think they'll win this game against Memphis, and drop at least 115 on them). They are 0-2 against New Orleans this season, but both games were close. I think they'll split their final two. They have beaten the clippers twice, once by a point and the other a blowout. 6 of their 11 are at home.
Prediction: 6-5, 45-37 record.
Remaining schedule: vs GSW, @ MIA, @ NJN, @ PHI*, vs SAS, vs ATL, vs SAC, @ NOH*, vs LAC, vs DAL, @ MIN.
Notables: The Rockets play 3 contending teams. They have 2 back-to-backs remaining, both of which entail road games; however, both begin with a bad team and are followed by a playoff-bound team. They have split the season series with GSW, are 1-2 against NOH (though I think they win this one), 0-3 against SAS, 0-3 against DAL and 1-1 against MIN.
Prediction: 9-2, 46-36 record. To be detailed, I think we continue our winning streak and beat the Ws, Heat and Nets before losing to the 76ers, who are a tough matchup for us. I think we'll beat the Spurs (we've seen them 3 times now and have played pretty well in 2 of those games, Chase will prob be back, we'll want it more for the playoff implications, etc), Hawks (who are just about as bad as can be against .500 or better teams, but play in the east), Kings, Hornets (tying our season series with them), and Clippers before finally losing to the Mavs. We'll cap the season off with an emphatic crushing of the Wolves. The Rockets look as good as any team since the break, and have 5 cupcake games remaining. The true test is how they fair against those 3 contenders. Beating 2 of them instead of 1 or getting swept in those games is really our key to the playoffs, and the players know that.
Under this set of predictions, we have the following situation
6. POR, 46-36
7. HOU, 46-36. The Blazers, however, own the tie-breaker. Given matchups, I would really hope the Lakers are the 2 seed, considering that we match up with them better than the Mavericks (we own a clear advantage at the 1, and are not favored, but competitive with them at the other 4 spots on the floor). Either way, our chances of winning a first round series are slim-to-none, but it would be fun to watch and one in which we can win a game or two.
8. NOH, 45-37. The Hornets, if my predictions are right, will own a 3-1 tiebreaker advantage over the Grizzlies, leaving them out of the playoff picture (sadly).
Feel free to use the comments to describe how you think the rest of the season will play out for these teams.